Many people have been introduced to the works of William Blake by way of his poetry and prose through the unlikely avenues of magazine advertisements and school spirit signs posted on the lockers of their older sibling’s high school, though at the time it is likely they had no idea the quotes were his.
Even now the truth remains that most unassumingly “normal” individuals going about their daily business, while likely not realizing it, know many lines from Blake by heart yet still may not even know his name.
William Blake (1757 – 1827) was an engraver by trade, and was recognized more by his peers for his artwork than for his poetry. It was not until some years after his death that his written work was recognized as being the visionary writing it is considered now, when he has been categorized as part of the Romantic Movement (led by such poets as Wordsworth and Coleridge) and his Songs of Innocence and of Experience is held in esteem as one of the masterpieces of English literature.
One of the more memorable lines of Blake familiar to the general public attributable to Blake is a poem called “Eternity,” which is listed as being from one of Blake’s notebooks (the “Rossetti Manuscript”) in the Selected Poems (Gramercy, 1995) but is sorted under the more ambiguous banner of “Songs and Ballads” in The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake (Doubleday, 1988). It states,
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
A large amount of people were introduced to this quote for the first time by way of an advertisement in a popular guitar magazine nearly fifteen years ago, unfortunately misattributed to the perpetually ready, “Ancient (name of a foreign culture here) Proverb” label.
A Memorable Fancy: The Proverbs of Hell
Maybe wider exposure to the society-permeating quality of Blake’s quotations comes indirectly through high school cheerleaders, invariably upbeat and full of the (school) spirit, always making posters and locker signs customarily plastered with inspirational quotes, such as “No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.”
Like many of his most popular (and largely unattributed by the general populace) quotes, the preceding comes from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which in the introduction to Blake’s Selected Poems Christopher Moore states is, “A truly funny work in which he reverses the traditional ideas of good and evil: the devil and his associates are depicted as energetic and creative, while the angels are bland, timid, and lethargic.”
The Blake quotation comes from one of the sections of this work titled, “A Memorable Fancy,” in which Blake describes taking a walk “among the fires of hell,” where he “collected some of their Proverbs.” It is number 15 in the following numbered list of “Proverbs of Hell,” a fact that most of the pigtail-bobbing beauties courtside are no doubt ignorant of as they spackle their signs to lockers with their glitter glue and sequins.
Other popularly-known quotes from the list include “He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence” (number five), “A cut worm forgives the plow” (number six) and “What is now proved was once only imagin’d” (number 33).
It is always interesting to learn the origin of something you have always somehow known and taken for granted because you have always known it. One of the benefits (and joys) of reading a wide variety of literature, particularly classics, is finding out how many of the things ingrained in our culture today are actually decades (sometimes centuries) old pieces of wisdom from our predecessors in the journey of life.
The works of William Blake stand as prime examples of literature that has permeated our world culture so fully that we can now attribute his words in advertisements without question to the sayings of the ancient, always ambiguous wise men, a move that made so unwavering screams of full assimilation.
William Blake quotes about love, life
I am in you and you in me, mutual in divine love. ~William Blake
If a thing loves, it is infinite. ~William Blake
Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence. ~William Blake
Where mercy, love, and pity dwell, there God is dwelling too. ~William Blake
Eternity is in love with the productions of time. ~William Blake
Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, but for another gives its ease, and builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair. ~William Blake
Love to faults is always blind, always is to joy inclined. Lawless, winged, and unconfined, and breaks all chains from every mind. ~William Blake
Fun I love, but too much fun is of all things the most loathsome. Mirth is better than fun, and happiness is better than mirth. ~William Blake
He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity’s sun rise. ~William Blake
For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life. ~William Blake
William Blake quotes on death
Art is the tree of life. Science is the tree of death. ~William Blake
More inspirational William Blake quotes
The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. ~William Blake
To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. ~William Blake
Opposition is true friendship. ~William Blake
The true method of knowledge is experiment. ~William Blake
Lives in eternity’s sun rise. ~William Blake
In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy. ~William Blake
It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. ~William Blake
The soul of sweet delight, can never be defiled. ~William Blake
The eye altering, alters all. ~William Blake
Exuberance is beauty. ~William Blake
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. ~William Blake
Blake, William. Selected Poems. New York: Gramercy, 1995.
Blake, William. The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake. Ed. David V. Erdman. New York: Doubleday, 1988.